Behavioral product strategist and gamification designer. This is my public hypertext notebook, sharing my thinking in motion at various stages of development.



Roguelikes are a genre of game heavily inspired by Rogue. You can picture them sort of like a long (or possibly endless) obstacle course where you try many times to make it further than you did before. Each time you go through the obstacle course, you'll mess up eventually, and you have to start over. When you start over, you'll go up against the same obstacles next time, except they'll be arranged in a different order.

Rough notes below:

  • Roguelike games generally have a few common principles:

    • Every time you die, you start over at the beginning of the game.

    • You will die frequently

    • During each life, you engage in a "run," where you attempt to make it further than you made it last time.

      • This is important because it creates a learning goal

        • Games intentionally design for failure state recovery, and failure states are seen as a point of growth in learning goals
      • This makes it so people are able to experience growing mastery.

        • Progress bars can visually enable progress monitoring. The "progress bar" is how far you have made it into a run before you hit your failure state.
          • Past performance- Players may want to perform better than their past self
    • Each run is similar but with randomized elements so you have a unique experience each time.

      • This makes it so each run you do is different, though it shares common elements. It feels fresh each time.
  • Roguelikes create massive amounts of engagement

    • People who play roguelikes generally will log dozens or hundreds of hours on what's essentially the same activity over and over again.
  • Examples of Roguelike games

    • Dead Cells
    • Ziggurat
    • Binding of Isaac
    • Enter the Gungeon
    • Hades
    • Slay the Spire
    • Crypt of the Necrodancer
  • Roguelikes mirror much of what we know about how people learn effectively (principles largely sourced from Make it Stick)

    • Randomly generated levels replicates interleaving

      • Whereas games that are the same each time may lead to memorization of a sequence of actions, the random elements of a roguelike lead the player to mastery over the mechanics.
        • Each run is randomly generated, within limitations. Imagine a level in Mario but they randomly change where enemies and blocks are placed so that each time it's different but about the same level of difficulty.
          • It trains you to respond to situations reflexively, as opposed to memorizing the order of things. Imagine doing the same escape room eight times. Eventually, you'd get to the point where you can find the right clues in the right order and do it quickly. You don't even need to think about it, you've done this exact thing many times before. Now imagine that you had instead completed eight different escape rooms.
            • Now imagine that on the ninth time, you are given a new escape room to enjoy. Under which situation do you think you would complete the new room more quickly?
              • Being presented with a variety of situations that follow a similar set of rules allows you to gain an understanding of how those situations tend to work. If you learn in this way, then you'll have an advantage over people who simply memorized all aspects of one situation.
        • Sometimes roguelikes vary the tools that the user has access to. In each run of Dead Cells, the player starts off with different weapons and encounters different weapons throughout the map. This means that they'll need to approach the challenges they face differently every time.
          • What if we asked the user of a health behavior change app to use different tactics every time they failed and restarted?
            • This would increase familiarity with all possible tools so the user finds the right one for them.
    • Generation effect

      • Games teach through interaction, and this is no different in Roguelikes.
    • Spaced Repetition

      • Despite the fact that each run is different in key ways, it is also similar in key ways. You die a lot and you restart a lot. This leads to a strong grasp of how the game works.
        • With it's limited randomness, players are repeatedly exposed to a many situations with a common set of rules, so they learn the rules rather than the situation.
    • Immediate feedback